Author Archive piechartking

Bypiechartking

What’s Up with Voter ID in Pennsylvania?

So by now, we all know that Democrats and liberals (and lovers of freedom and voting rights everywhere) won a “sorta” victory yesterday, a “did we win or not?” win. Proponents of voter rights had appealed the earlier decision of a lower court last month refusing to issue a preliminary injunction preventing Pennsylvania’s controversial new Voter ID Law from taking effect. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court handed down its decision.

As a lawyer, this decision is right in line with what judges usually do – hand out deflating victories, or defeats with cushions. If you’re not an attorney, though, this decision could be a little too much nuance, and not enough oomph. It was anything but a sexy decision. Lightning did not crash. No choirs of angels sang. The earth didn’t move. And the Law is still there – with no injunction to block its implementation – yet.

The Supreme Court was cautious in its decision. The Court let the lower court know that it disagreed with the lower court’s reasoning and vacated the lower court’s decision. In addition, the Supreme Court sent the case back down to the lower court, with instructions. This basically lets the lower court know that it HAS to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the Law from taking effect, unless it is proven that some things have happened that will ensure that voting is not harder for certain groups. In other words, unless changes have happened that pretty much take all the political advantage away from the Republicans who passed the legislation in the first place, the lower court HAS to issue an injunction. It seems to be a reasonable approach.

The Voter ID Law

To the Supreme Court, the primary point of the Law is to require voters to present photo identification before the voter can vote. The Law expects that the primary form of photo ID used by voters will be Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)–issued driver’s license or non-driver ID. The Law tries to make acquiring the ID really easy by attempting to override PennDOT procedures, kind of an “Easy ID” provision: the ID will be issued free of charge, and any voter who signs a statement affirming that the voter in question doesn’t have proof of identification and needs one for voting purposes, and has completed the application for the ID, will receive one. Apparently, the purpose of this “Easy ID” provision is to avoid any accusations that the Law is attempting to disenfranchise voters by making the procurement of a hard-to-get ID one of the requirements for voting.

However, it turns out that PennDOT is not playing along. If I were a cynical person (and I am), I would argue that Republicans wrote this Law, knowing full well that PennDOT would never implement it as written, but proceeded to enact the Law anyway. Why not? If confronted with claims of voter disenfranchisement due to PennDOT’s non-compliance with the Law, these Republicans could just shrug their shoulders. Hey, they tried to make it easy. Who knew that PennDOT was such a hardass? By then, then issue would be dead, because President Romney would already be warming up the money-bubble bath for corporations and obliging the Tea Party nuts.

No, PennDOT is still requiring that people present a birth certificate with raised seal, a social security card, and two forms of documentation showing current residence. And for good reason: since PennDOT photo ID is a secured form of identification, one that you can board planes with, for example, the bar must necessarily be high to show that you are who you say you are. When asked on the stand about PennDOT’s sensible adherence to its traditional vetting process prior to issuing photo ID, the Secretary of the Commonwealth could only offer the lame defense that the “Easy ID” section of“’[t]he [Voter ID] law does not require those kids of – the kind of identification that is now required by PennDOT for PennDOT IDs.’” In other words, “We tried to make getting ID easy, it’s evil PennDOT that’s screwing everything up!” How convenient for Republicans.

Remedial Measure

Because it’s so obvious that this situation will screw many voters (trying not to be overly technical, I think “screw” hits the right note), the State testified that it is “in the process of implementing several remedial measures on an expedited basis.” Wow, sounds reassuring. At the time of testimony, less than two months’ out from the General Election, the State’s “in the process”. Because if nothing else was being done, then there’s a real problem here, because the “Easy ID” section of the Law isn’t even being followed by PennDOT.

So what “remedial measures” to help comply with the “Easy ID” section? Well, one solution being contemplated is a new, non-secure Department of State ID card. Of course, preparations were still “underway” at the time of the evidentiary hearing back whenever, before the lower court trial. What’s more, applicants for the State ID card may still have to undergo the rigorous PennDOT application process and then get rejected, before qualifying for application for the State ID. According to the Commissioner of the Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislations, applicants who are unable to get a PennDOT photo ID will have the opportunity to call the Department of State to “begin the process of obtaining the alternative card.” Yeah, that sounds really “easy”.

Let’s pause for a moment to digest what this means.

1) The Voter ID Law requires you to show ID, probably PennDOT ID
2) The Voter ID Law makes getting the PennDOT easier with its “Easy ID” provision
3) However, PennDOT does not comply with these easier requirements in the “Easy ID” provision, and keeps the same requirements for getting PennDOT ID (for good reasons, like commercial airport security)
4) Republican Department of State is in the process of offering alternative, Department of State-issued State ID
5) For State ID, you still have to undergo the entire PennDOT ID application process
6) For State ID, you have to then get rejected during your PennDOT ID application process
7) After rejection, then you get a number to call to contact Department of State to begin the State ID application process.

The Conflicts and Error in Lower Court’s Reasoning

Unsurprisingly, in the face of all this, voters’ rights groups challenged the law as invalid and asked for an injunction to prevent the Law from taking effect. The lower court refused, stating that its belief was that Pennsylvania government efforts to educate the voting public, coupled with remedial measures like the one just outlined above, would be sufficient to prevent any potential voter disenfranchisement.

Well, the Supreme Court smacked down that conclusion in its opinion, writing that, while it didn’t doubt the good faith efforts of State employees, the Court wasn’t about to let glowing State employee testimony settle the question of whether voters could be disenfranchised by the Voter ID Law. The Court stated that it was “not satisfied” with the lower court’s “mere predictive judgment” that the state’s education efforts and remedial measures would take care of the potential problem, in light of the daunting issue of implementing such widespread change in such a short period of time (the Voter ID Law was enacted only in March 2012, after all), all the while making sure that no one gets disenfranchised.

Although die-hard liberals like me would have liked the Court to issue an injunction preventing the Law from taking effect, the law student part of me has to admire the inherent fairness of what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did. If you can agree, in theory, that requiring people to show photo ID before voting is constitutional, as long as everyone who wants a photo ID can get one before the next important election, then theoretically there is nothing wrong with the Voter ID Law.

The Court noted that the problem arises when the State of Pennsylvania attempts to ram through this new Voter ID procedure, the (unspoken and hoped-for) result being that thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters won’t be able to secure appropriate ID in time to vote in this year’s general election. Even though the Law may be constitutional in the long run, if implemented properly and reasonable education is combined with reasonable means for people to procure ID, in the short-run what the State is attempting to do is potentially constitutionally defective.
So given that, in the long run, this Law may constitutionally check out as legit, the Court sent the case back down to the lower court with some instructions. First, find out what’s up with this State ID initiative. Is it easy enough to get one of these State IDs that the “Easy ID” provision of the Voter ID Law is satisfied and disenfranchisement won’t occur because people can get the proper ID to vote? (The Court made it clear in its opinion that offering State ID only after you jump through all the hoops to get your PennDOT and then get rejected, doesn’t count as “easy enough”) If it’s not easy enough, or if the State ID initiative isn’t even off the ground yet, or not working well, the lower court has to issue an injunction. (Also, the Supreme Court stated that if the judge on the lower court has changed his mind, he must issue an injunction. I won’t hold my breath.)

From a perspective that values our representative-based democracy, you have to admire the Supreme Court’s restraint in its decision. Rather than block a law which was passed by democratically-elected officials in the legislature, the Court focused like a laser on the constitutional issue: could this Law’s hasty implementation disenfranchise vulnerable voters? If so, what’s being done to prevent that? State ID? Ok, well then, will State ID inoculate the voters against disenfranchisement by providing an easy solution to getting appropriate ID? If so, great! Let the Law stand. If not, block the Law. Even though the Supreme Court didn’t come right out and say it, it seems the Court knows that the State ID initiative will be insufficient to protect the rights of the sheer number of potential voters who will be disenfranchised by the new Law.

Through its opinion, the Court has cleverly crafted a solution that will result in either the Law being blocked from taking effect, or will result in a solution that will take away all the victory from Republicans, because anyone who wants appropriate ID will have the opportunity to get one, thus ensuring them the ability to vote.

Moreover, by gently highlighting the doubts that the Supreme Court has about the voter education efforts and remedial measures to be implemented, the Supreme Court subtly called attention to the massive and craven power play in which the Republicans have engaged to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania.

Let’s be frank, this was the Republicans’ plan from the beginning. There’s no possible way that implementing such a massive new piece of legislation in a few months’ time could possibly ensure that no eligible voter is disenfranchised. That’s actually the unspoken-and whole-point. Unspoken and hidden away, beneath a series of impediments working together to form a gauntlet through which many voters in the most vulnerable groups in Pennsylvania will not successfully navigate in time to vote on November 6.

Need PennDOT ID? It’s easy, just apply and sign this statement. Oh what? You mean you have to show embossed birth certificate, social security card, and two pieces of documentation proving current residence? That’s OK, no problem! Just apply for this Department of State-issued State ID! Wait, we’re working on that right now. Don’t worry – we’ll make it available. But hang on – you have to first go through the PennDOT ID application process first. You know, the one where you have to show your birth certificate, social – yeah, that one. You got rejected? Okay, then, here’s a number to call. Just call the Department of State and begin the process to get your State-issued State ID. I’m sure the wait won’t be too- Oh looky here! President Romney wins Pennsylvania. Have a nice life, you 47% moochers!

Bypiechartking

The Height of Hubris: “We Built This”

Uninformed, deluded or craven. I think those are your choices if you’re conservative and caught spouting the “We Built This!” nonsense. Forget roads, forget the power grid, forget regulatory schemes, forget all infrastructure – the indisputable reality is that you did not build “this” on your own. Not totally on your own, anyway.

Let’s talk about Cheryl and Eli Valenzuela, who will be speaking this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The Valenzuela’s own First State Manufacturing (FSM), a successful small business which they started in a garage doing upholstery, but which has subsequently expanded to making other products, like baseball ump vests and vests for the Israeli military.

Cheryl is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention, an ostensible flesh-and-blood embodiment of Republicans’ mantra “We Built This”. The phrase amounts to a rebuke of President Obama’s recent remarks that small business owners didn’t build their business in isolation without help from others. Forget that the remarks have been shamelessly taken out of context for a moment. Forget that, logically, it is impossible for you to build a small business in America totally on your own. Forget that you’re an adult and should know that without me having to write this article to remind you of that basic fact.

No, forget all that and just remember this: What is hilarious to the utmost about Cheryl Valenzuela speaking — as a living example of the “We Built This!” them, mind you—is that the Valenzuela’s didn’t even come close to building it on their own. Subsequent research on FSM, by Justin Acuff at Addictinginfo.org, has revealed the following:
1) The Valenzuela’s’ new 66,000 square-foot facility is funded by a $1.8 million US Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loan
2) Eli Valenzuela learned the upholstery trade through correspondence courses in the Army, and he applied what he learned at Dover Air Force Base, upholstering C-5 cargo planes.
3) Before Eli and Cheryl opened their upholstery business in the garage, they first received help and advice from the non-profit SCORE Association and Delaware Small Business Development Center to compose a business plan.
4) FSM was initially funded by a $20,000 guaranteed SBA loan.
5) Eli and Cheryl also became certified in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.
6) In 2001, FSM received another $96,500 guaranteed SBA loan in order to modernize and expand.
7) After 9/11 and during the ensuing recession, FSM obtained a $65,800 SBA disaster loan to maintain their business and employees until the business climate improved.

Kind of takes the wind out of the “We Built That!” sails, doesn’t it? So, when you’re listening to inane conservative drivel this week about how we all did this “ourselves”, without any help from others; as you watch Republicans strut and chest-bump to “We Built That!” at a convention held in the 62% publicly-financed ($86 million) Tampa Bay Times Forum, keep these little facts as a obvious and commonsense reminder that, no, we didn’t build it all ourselves.

We all need help, and we all are in it together – a fact of life most people know without having to be told. Some of us (Yeah I’m talking to you, conservatives), it seems, are comically uninformed, hopelessly deluded, or just cynically craven, about the “We Built This!” theme.   You pick.

Bypiechartking

My Basketball Game and “Stronger” Medicare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll admit I didn’t get it at first, but now I totally understand: Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney want to “strengthen” Medicare – it’s such an elementary concept.  Silly me, when I first read the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) report on the impact that the Ryan budget will have on Medicare, and then listened to what Romney and Ryan said on the stump about how they will “strengthen” Medicare, I got confused.

However, I’ve come up with a helpful metaphor to help me understand just how “strengthening” Medicare works.  Allow me to whisk you away to bygone days in my past, playing varsity basketball at my high school, Morrison Christian Academy in Taiwan. Why?

Let me explain:  Like Medicare, my high school basketball game needed some “strengthening”. How so?  Well, I made varsity three years out of four, I had a quick first step and drove left (which threw defenders off), I could dunk and had a nice, reliable outside jumper.  I could play three positions: point guard, shooting guard and small forward.  (Wait a minute, did my game really need “strengthening”?  Oh well, too far into the metaphor now to turn back…)

For the last 16 or so years since high school I have undergone some intense “strengthening” of my basketball game, I’m sure akin to the type of “strengthening” that Romney and Ryan envision for Medicare.  I’ve pretty much completely stopped playing basketball on any level (a few pick-up games at my kids’ school with other, mostly overweight, dads aside).  I have worked out inconsistently throughout the years, gained 30 pounds, and I have eaten tons (literally, tons) of fast food.  You know – strengthening my game, making it better.

Like the Medicare that Romney and Ryan have in store, my basketball game is much “stronger” now. Whereas before I could dunk, now I struggle to touch the backboard.  Similarly, where Medicare used to cover the lion’s share of services, the “stronger” Medicare will issue seniors a coupon to help defray a smaller and smaller percentage of the costs of a private insurance plan.

I used to sprint up and down the court the entire game with abandon, but nowadays my ankle and back brace, and occasional back spasms slow me down.  Medicare currently puts in some hard work too, covering most of medical costs while seniors pay around 35%.  In the future, “stronger” Medicare won’t work as hard, forcing seniors to pay 68% of their healthcare premiums and costs in 2030.

My basketball game will continue getting “stronger” as the years go by, until one day I’m pretty sure I’ll be confined to a wheelchair.  By then I might not even be able to muster up the energy to toss a ball 10 feet up through the hoop.  I sure hope the “stronger” Medicare will be waiting for me when that day comes.

Bypiechartking

Swiftboating Obama – on Medicare

Beware of Swiftboating on…Medicare. The Opsec group is making noises right now about whether or not Barack Obama deserves credit for ordering the Navy SEALs into Pakistan, and that is understandably being interpreted as the “Swiftboating” of 2012, but I think that will prove to be just noise in comparison with what could be the stealthy swiftboating that could potentially happen to Obama over Medicare.

Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate and immediately the ticket has begun a pre-emptive strike on Obama over the issue of Medicare, signaling an awareness of Romney-Ryan’s vulnerability on this issue, in light of the draconian measures which will be imposed on the popular Medicare program if the Ryan budget wins the day.

Democrats are understandably psyched to run against something as wildly unpopular as the Ryan budget. Why wouldn’t they be exuberant? Historically, Democrats have championed and protected Medicare, and the Ryan plan proposes to revamp (sorry, I mean “strengthen” – yeah right!) Medicare by essentially replacing it in many cases with a 32% off coupon (and the coupon gets smaller year-after-year due to inflation).

Yet with a deft pivot, the Romney-Ryan ticket has opened up a line of attack on the Obama campaign, tying the relatively unpopular Obamacare program to Medicare, stating that (logic and context be damned) Obama is looting Medicare to pay for Obamacare. I say “logic and context be damned” because the premise of Obamacare is to make healthcare available and cheaper for more people, goals which are shared by the Medicare program.

Also, logic and context be damned because Obamacare actually attempts to improve Medicare by reducing payments to providers in an effort to keep costs down, but not cutting services and benefits, whereas Ryan’s plan envisions cutting money to pay for services to seniors. Hmmmm…..if all the facts are out, which plan will be more popular to the individual citizen?

So I understand the celebrating and the end-zone dancing. But Democrats must remain vigilant against the stealthy Swiftboat-type campaign being waged against them. In 2004, John Kerry touted his military record as a great foil to the obviously entitled and pampered George W. Bush, who had managed to spend the Vietnam War Stateside.

In contrast, Kerry had volunteered for service, had actually seen combat and was decorated for his actions. This was to be John Kerry’s great leveler against Bush in the campaign; one man had actually fought in a war and won medals, the other man had hidden behind wealth and family connections to avoid the risks of combat. Easy pickings right? By the time the Republican and conservative assault against Kerry’s war record had mercifully abated, one important truth stood out: muddying up the waters will forever be a go-to tactic for conservatives when the facts don’t fit the desired narrative.

In an arguably effective campaign, the Swiftboat vets managed to cast doubt on Kerry’s war record, despite the obvious superiority of Kerry’s war record to Bush’s. In debating how meritorious Kerry’s accomplishments and record actually were, the forgotten point was how badly Bush’s own war record looked stacked alongside Kerry’s record. Now, a similar tactic is being employed against the Obama campaign: turn Medicare into a debate on “is or isn’t Obama cutting Medicare with Obamacare”, and shift the spotlight off Ryan’s truly catastrophic (from the perspective of seniors, who are the ostensible beneficiaries of the program) plans for Medicare.

On the bright side, however, Democrats can take comfort in the differences between the ‘04 Swiftboating and this time around. For starters, Obama is a likeable incumbent instead of the somewhat-aloof challenger John Kerry. This gives him a number of advantages that Kerry did not have.  Obamacare notwithstanding, Obama is–like Bush–an apparently likeable figure. It’s harder to attack a likeable President.

Moreover, as an incumbent, Obama is already well-defined and has amassed a comprehensive record over the past three-plus years as President. Consequently, the risk of being defined by Romney on a single point like Medicare is substantially lower for Obama. In contrast, Kerry was relatively unknown to many Americans at the onset of the Swiftboat attacks and substantially more susceptible to assaults on a single issue such as his war record.

Of course, a caveat: Obamacare actually is considered to be Obama’s signature accomplishment, much like John Kerry’s centerpiece was his war record. However, Obama’s record is too comprehensive and massive to be contained by attacks on one issue alone. Ryan, on the other hand, can still be predominantly defined by Obama as “Mr. Kill Medicare”, just as Obama has recently predominantly defined Romney as “Mr. Didn’t Pay Taxes” and “Mr. Retroactively Retired from Bain” before that.

Another difference between Swiftboat ’04 and ‘12 is that, on a visceral level, Medicare simply is not as sexy a political issue as Kerry’s war record. Arguing over whether Obama is cutting Medicare as opposed to simply cutting out waste and reducing future payments to providers doesn’t capture the imagination as well as heated debates on patriotism, shirking duty, implicit charges of cowardice and a dash of treason for good measure.

Finally, the veterans prosecuting the Swiftboat ‘04 attack were combat veterans themselves. Regardless of the veracity of their claims, the veterans were at least in a zone of comfort. Their attacks centered on matters with which they were familiar (combat decorations, military policy, etc), and they were on ideological ground which felt familiar to them (i.e. impugning candidate Kerry’s patriotism, protecting the honor of their comrades-in-arms). On the other hand, Romney and Ryan are lobbing Medicare attacks on Obama from unfamiliar terrain…essentially accusing Obama of doing to Medicare (cutting Medicare funds) what they themselves have supported, pushed for and encouraged in the past.

On this last point lies the exposed flank of the Romney-Ryan Medicare attacks. Obama has to bring the hammer down with the simple message: “No – that’s what you want to do to Medicare.” I envision an endless loop of video clips: Romney and Ryan accusing Obama of cutting Medicare, run side-by-side with past statements from Romney and Ryan talking about how Medicare needs to be cut. Draw relentless attention to the craven flip-maneuver the Romney-Ryan ticket is attempting to execute in the Medicare fight.

If Democrats remain vigilant and meet this latest attack head-on, there is no reason that the Swiftboat ‘12 version will work like in 2004. In fact, some political experts now dispute that the Swiftboat attacks had as significant an impact on that race as is generally thought.  However, better not to tempt the shifting winds of Fate and neglect a stealth issue. Confront it directly, discredit it and the attacker, and continue talking about tax returns, Ayn Rand, women’s rights, and hypocrisy all the way until November 6.